The last time we heard from The Menzingers, they were fretting over getting older. “Where we gonna go now that our twenties are over?” frontman Greg Barnett asked repeatedly on “Tellin’ Lies,” the opening track from 2017’s After the Party. If that album had ended with its title track, Barnett would have had his answer (and the band could have feasibly had their happy ending). “After the party, it’s me and you.” The record proved to be a growing-up narrative that culminated in a love story—or so it seemed. But the last song on that record was actually “Livin’ Ain’t Easy,” where life was likened to a continental breakfast where they’re always out of coffee.
Hello Exile is essentially that line blown up into a widescreen, cinematic experience. The party is way past over, and so are your twenties. This time, youth and young adulthood have been replaced by the next chapter, and it’s one where things don’t seem quite as black and white as they used to. “How do I steer my early 30s?/Before I shipwreck, before I’m 40?/ Ain’t it a shame what we choose to ignore/What kind of monsters did our parents vote for?” Those are some of the first lines that Barnett sings on “America (You’re Freaking Me Out),” Hello Exile’s disillusioned opening track. A lot of this record is about trying to pretend that you’re younger than you are, or trying to get back to those golden days of youth—back when you had no cares or responsibilities. Right off the bat, though, “America” tips the record’s hand, because how can you get back to that place of innocence when the whole nation seems to be going to hell? Later, on the terrific “Strain Your Memory,” Barnett pines after a girl with a simple proposition: “Can you strain your memory back to the times/When trouble wasn’t always on our minds?” It’s a nice thought, but it’s not always that easy.
Absolutely. I don’t think in this kind of climate, you can not go full in with it. I think we’d be doing a disservice to the song and how we all feel if we didn’t fully go in and make a statement. That was one of the most difficult parts of writing that songs. I wrote like 20 verses-I can’t even count. We wrote them over and over again, because it’s hard to say everything you want to say in three and a half minutes. It’s really tricky. I wanted to stay on theme of who I am as a person. I didn’t want it to come off as pretentious. I wanted it to feel how I typically write songs. It was a challenge to hone in the lyrics to a way that I felt comfortable with and happy with and said as much as I wanted to say. At the end, I was really happy.